Mercury Fillings Are Decimating the Environment
Much of the research on mercury in the environment is being conducted near known toxic dumpsites, but the problem is by no means confined to these areas. Mercury pollution is widespread, and did you know that dentist offices are the largest source of mercury in wastewater entering publicly owned treatment works?
Only about a dozen states—including Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Washington, Vermont, New York, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Oregon, and Michigan—require dentists to use amalgam separators to reduce mercury discharges. An amalgam separator is a wastewater treatment device installed at the source, in the dental office, that removes 95-99 percent of the mercury in the wastewater. (yeah! New England -dmm)
In 2010, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it would create a rule requiring all dentists who use dental amalgam to conduct best management practices and install amalgam separators. As originally proposed, EPA said the regulation would be finalized by 2012, but earlier this year they announced they may be withdrawing the proposal.
Abandoning the long-promised separator rule would be a horrid decision, especially when the EPA acknowledges that there are approximately 160,000 dentists in more than 120,000 dental offices who use or remove amalgam in the US, and, in their words, “almost all of [them]… discharge their wastewater exclusively to [publicly owned treatment works] POTWs.”
Dentist Offices Create 3.7 Tons of Mercury Waste a Year
Dental amalgam, a tooth filling material that is at least 50 percent mercury, is the leading intentional use of mercury in the US (this despite the fact that 52 percent of American dentists have stopped using amalgams). Dental offices generate a variety of amalgam waste that gets flushed down the drain, unless dentists implement best-management practices and dentists install and properly maintain amalgam separators. Such practices will collect:
- Scrap amalgam
- Used, leaking, or unusable amalgam capsules
- Amalgam captured in chairside traps and vacuum pump screens
- “Contact amalgam,” including teeth with amalgam restorations
There’s a growing global consensus that dental amalgam is a considerable source of environmental mercury pollution. Several studies show that about 50 percent of the mercury entering municipal wastewater treatment plants can be traced back to dental amalgam waste.
This mercury waste amounts to about 3.7 TONS each year! An estimated 90 percent is captured by the treatment plants generally via sewage sludge — some of which ends up in landfills, while other portions are incinerated (thereby polluting the air) or applied as agricultural fertilizer (polluting your food), or seep into waterways (polluting fish and wildlife). In the infographic below, you can see that the mercury used globally for dental fillings is greater than that used for other major industrial uses, including lighting, electronic devices, and more.
There Are Far Safer Alternatives to Amalgam
It’s high time that the FDA and the dental schools in charge of educating young dentists start acknowledging the dangers of mercury fillings for humans and for the environment. In addition to the widespread environmental pollution, there is overwhelming evidence showing mercury is easily released in the form of vapor each time you eat, drink, brush your teeth, or otherwise stimulate your teeth. These mercury vapors readily pass through your cell membranes, across your blood-brain barrier, and into your central nervous system, where they can cause psychological, neurological, and immunological problems.
The harms become all the more brazen when you learn that there are many superior alternatives to mercury fillings. One of the most popular alternatives to amalgam is resin composite, which is made of a type of plastic reinforced with powdered glass. It is already common throughout the US and the rest of the developed world, offering notable improvements over amalgam, as it:
- Is environmentally safe: Composite, which contains no mercury, does not pollute the environment. This saves taxpayers from paying the costs of cleaning up dental mercury pollution in our water, air, and land – and the costs of health problems associated with mercury pollution.
- Preserves healthy tooth structure: Unlike amalgam, it does not require the removal of significant amounts of healthy tooth matter. Over the long term, composite preserves healthy tooth structure and actually strengthens teeth, leading to better oral health and less extensive dental work over the long-term.
- Is long-lasting: While some claim that amalgam fillings last longer than composite fillings, the science reveals this claim to be baseless. The latest studies show that modern composite not only lasts as long as amalgam, but actually has a higher overall survival rate.
A lesser-known alternative is increasingly making mercury-free dentistry possible even in the rural areas of developing countries. Atraumatic restorative treatment (also called alternative restorative treatment or ART) is a mercury-free restorative technique that has been demonstrated a success in a diverse array of countries around the world, including Tanzania, India, Brazil, Zimbabwe, Turkey, South Africa, Thailand, Canada, Panama, Ecuador, Syria, Hong Kong, Mexico, Sri Lanka, Chile, Nigeria, China, Uruguay, Peru, and the United States. ART relies on adhesive materials for the filling (instead of mercury) and uses only hand instruments to place the filling, making it particularly well suited for rural areas of developing countries – places where amalgam, which requires electricity, cannot be used.